Brook Andrew is a Melbourne-based artist whose inter-disciplinary practice includes installation, video, performance and museum interventions. He has been exhibiting internationally since 1996, and has just been awarded a 2017 Smithsonian Artist Fellowship. His pieces draw on archival material to address local and global issues regarding race, history and consumerism. Working in a wide variety of media, Brook presents viewers with alternative ways of looking at the world by intervening, expanding and re-framing the stories we tell about our past. His focus is on dominant Western narratives, particularly those relating to the history of colonialism, both in Australia and elsewhere in the world.
Brook is a great collector of newspaper cuttings, post cards, photographs, glass negatives, books, maps, textiles, films and cultural objects of historical significance. He draws upon this wealth of material to create his own installations, juxtaposing them with other images in order to challenge dominant modes of thought and to encourage viewers to think freely about other possible ways of looking at the past. His work re-appropriates the practices of the European Dadaists and Surrealists while sharing their subversive aims. In the image below, he has subverted the colonial gaze by substituting the head of the European figure with a red blob tinged with the outlines of seas and continents that recall that the way in which historical atlases marked British imperial claims to territory in red. In contrast, the head of the Aboriginal figure has been replaced by a close-up of the troubled features of an African man who gazes directly at the viewer, challenging us to empathize with him.
The Forest (Paris, 2016)
Earlier this year Brook Andrew was awarded a Photography Residencies Laureate at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, where he spent his time exploring their collections of photographs and lantern slides dating from the colonial era. In this exhibition, he drew upon these as well as those from his own collection and others from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge to create his own original artworks. The source images were then reproduced, worked on, painted over, resized, screen printed and complemented with neon lights, collages, and other various objects.
All three images in this case study are installation shots of Brook's exhibition at the Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Paris taken earlier this year (2016). The hypnotic black and white pattern that recurs in his work is inspired by the Aboriginal woodcarvings of the Wiradjuri people of New South Wales, which is his mother's home state. In Memory (Triptyque), the juxtaposition of disparate images provokes new ways of thinking and feeling about them. Here, the Aboriginal woman and the European man are presented as equals linked by Australia's past, not as 'exotic native' and colonial master. Indeed, he appears to gaze at her almost tenderly.
Images like Waterfall (2016) appear to date from the 1930s, but this is an illusion created by the artificial aging of the photograph by staining part of the image, blurring it and printing it on fabric. By undermining the idea that photography is objective, Brook encourages the viewer to consider how he or she can be manipulated by such images. The absence of a horizon encourages us to see ourselves as a part of the landscape rather than masters of it - a characteristic that is in marked contrast to the Western landscape tradition.
In short, Brook's interest in the many cultural lineages (Scottish, Irish, Jewish and Australian Aboriginal) that forged his identity and shaped his arts practice is indeed a strong platform to compare the histories of the Asian Pacific with those of the rest of the world. The Forest prolongs his on-going quest to provide viewers with alternative ways of interpreting both the world and our own heritages.
Artist's website, http://www.brookandrew.com/loop/, accessed 24 October 2016.
Olivier Cena, Brook Andrew: l'artist qui denounce les manipulation des images, published 11 June 2016, http://www.telerama.fr/sortir/brook-andrew-l-artiste-qui-denonce-la-manipulation-des-images,143499.php, accessed 24 October 2016.
Galerie Nathalie Obadia, press release for The Forest (English), published on http://www.nathalieobadia.com/show.php?show_id=3252&showpress =1& language=1&p=1&g=3, accessed 24 October 2016